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Tonbridge: Widow of Andrew Tyler calls for changes to law on assisted dying

By Claire McWethy

The widow of a Tonbridge man who travelled to Switzerland to end his own life is calling for a change in the law on assisted dying.

Andrew Tyler first made contact with Dignitas in 2015, after his health quickly began to deteriorate.

He was living with Parkinson’s and had a severe degenerative disease in his back leaving him in constant pain.

Andrew and Sara with some of their dogs

Andrew and Sara with some of their dogs

In a letter explaining his decision, sent to his friends a few days before his death, the former NME rock writer turned animal rights activist, said: “For nearly two years I hadn’t been able to do that simplest of things: sit up in bed with a book.

“What I didn’t want above all – and who does”, he added, “was to slide into what, ultimately, awaits many Parkinson’s patients: becoming a helpless, immobile, drooling shadow of what I was, unable to speak or think properly.”

The 70-year-old, who had been director of Tonbridge charity Animal Aid for 22 years, passed away after taking a lethal overdose, with his wife Sara Starkey at his side on April 28.

Should assisted dying be allowed in this country?

But the decision to travel to Dignitas was one he had kept a secret from all but a handful of close friends, as he was worried he would be stopped from fulfilling his dying wish by the authorities.

Instead, he had to get medical reports from of his neurologist and GP by pretending he needed them for work and pension reasons.

Andrew was a passionate animal rights activist

Andrew was a passionate animal rights activist

This week, as the High Court considers the case of a terminally ill man with motor neurone disease, Mr Tyler’s widow is among those calling for a change in the law on assisted dying.

As it stands both active euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal, and helping someone to take their own life is punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment.

But 67-year-old retired college lecturer Noel Conway is asking judges to review the law, so that he can have a dignified death.

He is arguing the Suicide Act 1961 is incompatible with legislation protecting private and family life and discrimination.

Ms Starkey said: “We kept the fact that we were going to Dignitas secret for two years. Andrew was too nervous that should it be known, he might be stopped by some authority or other.

Andrew with Sara four days before his death

Andrew with Sara four days before his death

"I am so angry that my husband and I had to travel abroad to fulfil his wish.

“Surely assisted dying has to go the way of suicide, homosexuality and abortion once being an offence punishable by prison and now not.

“Britain should civilize itself and give us the freedom of choice to have an assisted death here in the UK if we so wish.”

She added: “What every one of us has to remember is that Andrew is really happy that what he has done is absolutely the right thing. And I was so lucky to see his suffering go away. And he was determined to go on his feet. And he did.”

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